Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Best: Top 10 Robin Williams Performances

Robin Williams was a terrific actor.  That didn't always come across in his movies.  He had some pretty terrible performances over the years (I'm looking at you, Flubber).  But if he had a good director, they could bring out some fantastic talent.

10.  Dr. Cozy Carlisle in Dead Again
The role was very small, but he added a hardened edge and darkness to a character that needed to act as both comic relief and exposition.

9.  Jack Powell in Jack
A lot of this is Robin Williams acting like a big kid.  But the movie does allow him some nice turns.  There is a scene that a critic once pointed out to me that highlights his work.  Williams plays a 10-year-old who looks 40.  He goes to a bar and a drunk commiserates about adult life.  As he talks, Williams alternately looks understanding and bewildered in just the right proportions.

8.  Daniel Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire
There are two things that are great about this performance.  The first is that Robin Williams is able to convincingly put on the air and demeanor of a middle-aged English nanny.  But what really gets me is his manic and desperate role of the father.  His frustration and rage below the surface is palpable and makes his moves towards the ridiculous understandable.

7.  Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam

The first part of the movie feels like basic Robin Williams schtick.  But director Barry Levinson allows the character to grow and shows how the horrors of war begin to overcome him.  The best part is how you can see the melancholy behind the jokes as he raises the spirits of GI's going to the front

6.  Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society

Again, many focus on the humor he brought to the role, but the best part is when he sees the good brought out in his students.  Look at his performance in the final scene and how little he speaks and has to communicate with his eyes.  It is great.

5.  Walter Finch in Insomnia

This was such a break from all of his other roles.  I would never have cast Williams in this part as it didn't allow for his usual improv skills.  But what was genius about the casting is that Williams conveyed a gentleness to his killer that defined him.  Finch was someone who was so impotent in the world and in people's eyes that he snapped and acted in a way no one could foresee.

4.  Parry in The Fisher King

This role took Williams zaniness and let it boil over into full-blown madness.  Most of Williams' great performances come from directors focusing his energy into a precise character.  Here, director Terry Gilliam simply pushes Williams to the extreme until he explodes on the screen like a hand grenade.  He holds nothing back and the performance is like one, long, manic howl.

3.  Seymour Parrish in One Hour Photo

This is the most chameleon-like Williams ever became.  He disappears completely into this role so that it is difficult to recognize him.  Like his character in Insomnia, he is all rage.  But unlike that character Seymour, or "Sy" is so desperate for love and affection that his loneliness causes us more sympathy than repulsion despite the fact that he ends up doing vile things.

2.  Dr. Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings

This is a character who is hiding.  Hiding from the world, hiding from life, hiding behind his bushy beard and glasses.  Williams had to layer his character with layers of emotional armor to hide his loneliness.  He was so cripplingly shy that in a way he is less alive than his patients.  Williams restrains himself so well in this movie that you want to reach in and nurture that spark you know is just below the surface.

1.  Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting

The role that won him the Oscar is truly his best.  It merges all of the best elements of his dramatic and comedic skills.  He never goes to far in "performing" comedy.  All of the comedy comes from a grounded place of truth.  All of the drama comes the wounded nature of his character.  His first scene with Will is a fantastic example of expertly moving from character beats.  Watch as he goes from nervous counselor to a one-handed choke hold.  And none of it rings false.  And who could forget that amazing monologue that holds you by the power that could only come from Robin Williams (warning: vulgar language below)

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